American lawyers in Dublin for ‘Fall’ meeting

Monday, October 17th, 2011

THE INTERNATIONAL law section of the American Bar Association, which has 400,000 members throughout the world, met in Dublin last week and heard the association president, Bill Robinson III, stress the importance of the independence of the legal profession and the independence of the judiciary. That meant the court system had to be adequately resourced, he told The Irish Times.

President Mary McAleese addressing the American Bar Association 2011 Fall Meeting, at the Convention Centre Dublin last week, which attracted a record numbers of delegates. Photograph: Eric Luke

He said that this year’s meeting saw a record attendance, with more than 1,100 delegates, an increase on the 975 who visited Paris for the meeting last year. “I am convinced the location of the meeting played a significant role in attracting such a large and diverse attendance,” he said.

The American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional association in the world, and has members around the world as well as in the US. Mr Robinson took a year’s leave from his firm, Frost Brown Todd in Florence Kentucky, so he could devote himself to the association as president and chief executive.

The association has members in Ireland. “It’s quite easy to join,” he said. “It costs just $100 (€72) and it gives access to the largest legal content produced in the world. The ABA journal goes out monthly around the world and we also have a website open to anyone.”

He said his first priority as president was to address the underfunding of the court system and to promote the independence of the profession. “Law Day on May 1st, 2012, will have as its theme – ‘No courts, no justice, no freedom’. That’s how fundamental it is to constitutional democracy,” he said.

“When multinational corporations move around the world they are looking for stability and predictability in the rule of law as well as operational manufacturing facilities,” he said. “They have to be sure of independent counsel who are not controlled by government, not conflicted, not afraid of standing up to government when issues arise, as they will, for example with employment law, environmental law, tax law, immigration law.

“We are convinced, and history backs us up on this, that the rule of law is rooted in an independent judiciary supported by an independent legal profession. If you get away from that you get closer to the rule of men rather than the rule of law.

Michael Burke, chairman of the section of international law which met in Dublin, told The Irish Times that if lawyers had to be looking over their shoulders at government during the 1960s, the civil rights cases that were so important then would never have been taken.

Referring to proposals in the new Legal Services Bill, he said: “It is perching the professions on top of a slippery slope. It is very easy to see where it could go. It is not necessarily where it will go.”

“Be careful the cure is not worse than the disease,” warned Mr Robinson. “As a matter of core constitutional democratic value, do no harm to the independence of the profession and do no harm to the independence of the judiciary. History has shown these are in the best interests of the public for its protection. Human rights were often advanced against what was at the time popular opinion,” he said. “Where will we go if not to independent courts, which have to be properly funded, and an independent legal profession?”

He said that the commitment to pro bono work was a core value of the ABA. “It is a critical characteristic and a measure of professional success that every lawyer is expected to provide pro bono representation,” he said.

Mr Burke said that typically law firms had pro bono committees, with partners dedicated to co-ordinating pro bono work across the firm. They actively went out to seek such work, he said. This goes back to the founding fathers of the US, said Mr Robinson, who pointed out that John Adams and others were lawyers who worked for American independence in their own time and provided a defence to unpopular defendants on a pro bono basis.

Source: Carol Coulter, irishtimes.com

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